For street riders this discrepancy in engine displacement between the Ducati 848 EVO, Suzuki GSX-R750 and Triumph Daytona 675R means nothing. But at the racetrack, where you’re typically defined by one of two choices — 600cc or 1000cc — these three machines aim to carve a niche of their own. Welcome, then, to the track portion of Motorcycle.com’s Oddball Sportbike shootout.
The 1.7 miles of Auto Club Speedway’s infield road course would play host to our Oddball Sportbike shootout this year. Who’s your money on?
To their credit, the Ducati and Triumph both proved to be fantastic machines in their own right. All of our testers were enamored by the Ducati’s absolutely planted front end, while the Triumph nearly won us over with its astute chassis and charismatic engine.
But the racetrack will prove to be a different environment. To be honest, all three of these machines were bred for the track, with street provisions just mere afterthoughts.
We chose the tight confines of Auto Club Speedway’s infield road course to lessen the Suzuki’s horsepower advantage over the other bikes, especially the Triumph.
Leveling the playing field as best we could, we fitted all three bikes with Bridgestone’s latest D.O.T. racing rubber, the Battlax Racing R10 (see sidebar for more information). Also, because there’s a significant discrepancy between the power output of our little trio, track selection was taken into careful consideration. A long, open track would skew the results in favor of the more powerful Ducati and Suzuki as they would be able to pull away from the Triumph, whereas a tighter, technical track should (in theory) negate that advantage and give the Trumpet a fighting chance.
We chose to ride with our friends at Fastrack Riders for their first event of the year at the infield road course at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. This 1.7-mile track configuration makes do without the long, banked oval section of the former AMA track and is quite tight and technical, a perfect venue to pit these three machines against each other in a battle royale for national pride.
So which will it be? The throaty V-Twin of the sinister-looking Ducati, the screaming four-banger of the reliable Suzuki, or the raspy inline-Triple of the lean, mean Triumph that takes top honors? Read on to find out.
After watching Jason DiSalvo take several wins in AMA Daytona Sportbike competition this season aboard a Ducati 848 EVO, we had high expectations for the stock version of that machine as we taxed it around Auto Club Speedway. If you’ve read Editor Duke’s first ride piece of the 848 EVOfrom its introduction at the Imola racetrack in Italy, then you’re aware that the new bike isn’t much of a departure from the old except in one crucial area — the engine. Throttle bodies grow from 56mm to 60mm in equivalent diameter, while intake ports also receive some tweaks. Perhaps the most significant upgrade comes in the form of revised intake and exhaust camshafts with higher lift. Combined with reconfigured combustion chambers netting a 13.2:1 compression ratio, Ducati claims crankshaft horsepower of 140 at 10,500 rpm. We guessed rear-wheel ponies just north of 120.
So, we were a little underwhelmed when our test bike pumped out just 118.6 horsepower at 10,400 rpm on the Dynojet dyno at Mickey Cohen Motorsports. That’s just two more than our standard 848 made back in 2008. More telling is where that power is made — much higher in the revs. Looking at our dyno chart you can see the EVO doesn’t come alive until 7000 rpm, where it leaps ahead of the Suzuki and Triumph all the way to its 11,500 redline. Also telling is that between those two marks the Ducati makes as much as 20 more horsepower and 10 ft.-lb. more torque than the next closest bike, the GSX-R750.
The EVO exhibits uncharacteristic power traits for a V-Twin. With the bulk of its power coming high in the rev range, we found ourselves riding the Ducati like an inline-Four.
On track, the Ducati’s odd-for-a-Twin power delivery made itself known just as it did on the street. Acceleration out of slow-speed corners was rather lackluster, as we mistakenly expected the typical V-Twin torque to pull a gap from the Suzuki and Triumph. The flat spot in the Ducati’s powerband around the 5000-rpm mark needs to be ridden around, and we found ourselves having to get the EVO high in the revs before we could really feel the power. “The flat spot at 5-6K rpm can really hurt the EVOs performance on a track configuration with precious few long straights and numerous tight-radius turns,” says Pete in his notes, adding, “Of course, a seemingly simple solution is to carry more speed through a turn, with the tachometer needle spinning well above the flat spot.”
The Ducati’s sinister matte-black paint job is $1000 less than the red or white offerings, but it’s difficult to photograph without looking like a black blob.
To add insult to injury, tall final-drive gearing only exacerbated slow-speed acceleration on this technical racetrack. All three testers noted that they found themselves between gears through many of the turns. We’d recommend a rear sprocket with a few more teeth, as that would tighten up the gaps between gears in the transmission and yield a different reaction regarding gearing.
Engine and gearing quirks aside, we were pleasantly surprised at how well the Ducati’s chassis handled the track. On the street we noted that, while completely stable and planted on its side, initiating a turn required some effort compared to the other two bikes here. This is mostly due to the 848 EVO having the longest wheelbase of the trio at 56.3 inches (compared to 54.7 inches and 54.9 inches for the Suzuki and Triumph, respectively).
The Ducati’s heavy steering was much less noticeable within the confines of the racetrack, and were it ridden on its own, we’d have no problem rating the steering with words like “quick” and “nimble.” But when stacked against the likes of the Suzuki and Triumph, it definitely required the most effort transitioning through the quick switchbacks at Auto Club Speedway.
The only area where the Ducati’s chassis had a slight disadvantage was in quick transitions, though it performed better than we predicted.
That said, its manners while leaned over nearly horizontal — like its 1098/1198 sibling — continue to impress us. “It’s as though it would continue its large, sweeping arc around a corner even if I wasn’t still aboard,” quipped Kevin about the EVO’s ability to precisely hold its line. The Ducati’s sure-footed chassis certainly would’ve been a bigger asset at a higher-speed racetrack with more flowing corners, but its relative lack of agility in this group held it back slightly on Auto Club’s tight layout.
On the suspension front, the 848 EVO uses a fairly standard fully-adjustable 43mm Showa inverted fork mated to an equally adjustable Showa shock, the same as the previous 848. Ohlins suspenders might have been a nice upgrade, but the Showa components performed quite well at the track. Neither end required much adjustment from us the whole day and absorbed the bumps with adequate feedback.
One area of this test where neither bike had much of an advantage over the other is in the braking department. With Brembo supplying monobloc calipers to all three machines, their excellent performance is just what you’d expect. And because we’ve waxed poetic about Brembo monoblocs and their powerful stopping power in the past, we’ll sum up by saying they’re good. Real good. In the court of personal preference, however, Duke picked the Ducati’s Brembos as “the best for the track,” as their strong initial bite and the 848’s stability under braking make it a confident stopper.
In the street test, Pete noted how the racer-like ergos of the Ducati made it less than comfortable during the freeway drone. But that butt-up, head-down rider triangle that’s murder on the street feels completely natural on the track, lending itself to extreme body positioning should one feel the need. The slippery footpegs we noticed on the street weren’t much of an issue on the track, though that issue was replaced by an LCD instrument panel which was darn-near impossible to view at a glance.
All told, the Ducati 848 EVO is a strong performer. Revving it like a four-cylinder took some getting used to, but once we adapted, taking advantage of its high-rpm power and confidence-inspiring stability made it a hoot to ride. Surprisingly, despite having the second-most peak horsepower, all three testers posted their slowest time on the EVO.
Unfortunately for Duke, Fastrack removed the transponders from our bikes before the last session of the day, when he was finally starting to gel with the 848. “It’s too bad we didn’t have a transponder for this session, because I definitely went much quicker than I did earlier,” he noted.
As it stands, the Ducati falls short of matching the lap times of the other two around a tight track. Note the undertail mufflers, which are 2 inches longer than on European-spec 848s.